By Ellen Barredo
There is no question about it. Potted plants grown in the home are growing in a very unusual environment not found in most of the natural world, so you have to create the right conditions for maintaining proper light, soil, nutrition, disease and insect control. Good news! It can be done organically.
Proper placement in the home is essential. Know your plant and what it requires for light.
I know what you’re thinking: aren’t all potting soils organic? Surprisingly, no! Many manufacturers add synthetic amendments like slow-release fertilizers, water absorbing gels, pesticides, wetting agents and other ingredients. Often to get a purely organic mix, organic gardeners had to mix their own, but now they can be found in retail garden centers here in St Louis. Fafard introduced an excellent organic soil in 2006 they claim to be 100% natural, meeting all National Organic Program (NOP) standards. It contains no synthetic chemicals and is made from 100% organic materials, including certified Canadian sphagnum peat moss, aged pine bark, perlite, dolomoitic limestome, gypsum and an all-natural fertilizer, and is suitable for use in the garden and for indoor containers.
Nutrition and Water
Nutrition can be found in many products, fish emulsion and kelp to name two, but the problem is the odor! Nature’s Creation has come up with several products that do not have an offensive odor and are water soluble. Quick Dissolve Plant Food Tablets are quick and easy to use. Each tablet produces 1 quart of natural organic plant food. There is also a liquid plant food available. Nature’s Creation plant foods claim to improve the root environment, enhance soil moisture holding capacity, and provide a 4-4-4 nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium analysis. Added bonus? A product produced in the Midwest!
Want to enhance the action of your fertilizers and soils? The Enki Watering System claims to turn ordinary water into extraordinary water for plants. The specialized watering can super oxygenates tap water for immediate use on your plants. No more jugs sitting out overnight to remove chlorine and fluorine, just fill and plug in to produce your own super water.
Diseases in houseplants in the home have been hard to address organically. We were often found mixing concoctions of baking soda etc. to try to fight disease in plants. There are a couple products available, though, that can help prevent and control many diseases. Neem oil is an extract of the neem tree, and works well to prevent many leaf spot diseases. A newer product called Serenadeâ is said to be an effective too against bacteria and fungal diseases in houseplants in the home. The active ingredient is Bacillus subtilis, and the product is said to be safe for families and pets, and can even be used on food crops up to the day of harvest. More info can be found at Serenade Garden.
There are many choices in organic insect control or more natural insect control. Here are some tips to combat various common insect pests:
- Aphids – Use strong sprays of water in the sink or try Safer Soap Spray. Check plants often.
- Caterpillars – Handpick these pests. These critters are commonly found on ferns brought in from outside. Ferns cannot be sprayed.
- Fungus Gnats -Pyrethrum sprays, yellow sticky tape, and a ½” of sand covering the top of soil will help control them. Fine tune your watering schedule to allow the plant to dry slightly between watering.
- Mealybugs – Control mealybugs by washing them off, by applying Safer Soap Spray, or by using alcohol on cotton balls to wipe them away. Check each week!
- Millipedes, Sowbugs, and Pillbugs – These often cause alarm, not to worry, set the pot in a larger bucket of soapy water and let soak for 5 minutes. Diatomaceous Earth may also work placed on top of soil, caution if pets are in the house.
- Scales – Wash the plant with soapy water and scrub off the hard, waxy shelled insects with a used toothbrush. Try Safer Soap Spray once plant has dried. Oil sprays such as Organocide might be used for more severely affected plants. If you have no success, dispose of plant.
- Spider Mites – Spray plants forcefully with water to break up webbing and dislodge mites. When plant is dry, spray plants with Safer Soap Spray concentrating on undersides of leaves and at leaf axils. Increase humidity in the room. Several applications at weekly intervals may be required.
- Whiteflies – Spray plants with Safer Soap. Wet the underside of the foliage. Several applications at weekly intervals may be required. Sticky tape will help catch flying adults.
Ellen Barredo studied horticulture at Meramec – St Louis Community College, and is a Missouri Certified Nursery Professional with more than 28 years in professional horticulture, currently at Bowood Farms.